After 2 years of COVID, it was finally time for another conference. I’ve chosen the eXperience Agile conference in Lisbon, Portugal, from 26/09/2022 to 27/09/2022. It was the 8th edition of a global conference that focuses on gathering wisdom and best practices on business agility as well as technical agility. Since I’m working with agile teams, I hoped to gather more knowledge and learn new things to apply to my teams.
The first day contained 5 talks, agile safari’s, workshops and lightning talks. The second day had the same format, but due to flight timings, I couldn’t see them all.
All talks were maximum thirty minutes, so the information was very concise. In this blogpost, I’ll list some talks I found interesting.
Table of contents
- FAST Agile, by Ron Quartel
- Optimise your neurophysiology for agile thinking, by Delia McCabe
- Practice does not make perfect, by Gil Broza
- Understanding value streams at the gemba, by Nigel Thurlow
FAST Agile, by Ron Quartel
The full title of the talk was ‘FAST Agile – The New (and Wild) Kid on the Agile Block’.
“Fluid Scaling Technology aka FAST Agile, is the outcome of an experiment in radical self-organization at scale. Not only did it work, but we also found it solved many of the issues that come with agile at scale that existing methods face. If you like Dave Snowden’s rewilding agile message, you are likely to see the promise in this radical new way of working built on Open Space Technology. Prepare to be surprised…”
During the talk, Ron referred a lot to the Cynefin model by Dave Snowden. Explaining that model here would take me too far away from the purpose of this post. In short, it helps to determine in what situation your company/project/team is (complex, complicated, chaos, obvious). And based on that situation, you can take calculated decisions.
Scrum can then be placed in the space between complicated and complex. FAST sits in the complex space, next to the chaos border.
Now, what is FAST? It uses the principle of the Open Space Technology, where large groups of people come together, self-organise and set up a planning. It stands for Fluid Scaling Technology. The A is just there so it sounds better. How the process works:
- It merges teams into a tribe
- Everyone throws their work on a wall
- Everyone self-organizes around the work
- 2 days later, everyone meets back and shares their progress
- Repeat from the start
It’s an agile method where scaling is built-in. Certain conditions must be met, but that’s also true for Scrum and agile in general.
How does FAST help?
- It’s a pure complex system, unlike other scaling methods like SAFe which are complicated in nature. The Cynefin model teaches us that complicated systems must be solved with complicated models, and complex with complex.
- It has been designed to not transform to zombie agile
- It focuses on both Discovery and Delivery while other agile methods focus on Delivery
More information on FAST can be found at Fluid Scaling Tech.
Optimise your neurophysiology for agile thinking, by Delia McCabe
A surprising talk about the functioning of the brain and how it correlates with agile.
“Thinking occurs across a sensitive and sophisticated neural network. Our neurophysiology depends heavily on lifestyle choices, which include the nutrients we consume. Other lifestyle factors, which include sleep quality, physical activity, and work and relationships, also impact this sophisticated network, although nutrition forms the foundation of our neurophysiology. It is therefore the first principle we need to address if we aim to maximise cognitive strategies such as agile, creative, and flexible thinking.”
I was most curious about this talk, as it doesn’t immediately connect with an agile conference. She said it herself that she was surprised to have been invited, but took it as a challenge to explain how the brain works and how that affects the agile way of thinking.
She started the talk with explaining how our brains have evolved to work in a jungle environment, to survive. But that the current office life is a lot different and our brains have difficulties handling it. Back in the ancient times, stress was present in short bursts (for example when hunting), but not continuously like it is in the current times.
She explained how the brain needs to be nourished correctly in order to be able to receive new information. If the brain is not nourished properly, it will not be able to create new neural links and thus not process new experiences. So for example, when you’re explaining something new to another person, if that person’s brain is not nourished as it should be, that person will not process the information correctly, if at all.
More information on this subject can be found at here.
Practice does not make perfect, by Gil Broza
Almost every company uses agile nowadays. But not everyone gets it right.
“These days, almost every organization is on an Agile journey. And yet, most companies have trouble achieving real agility. Why is that? Aren’t the ingredients for effective transformations available to everyone? There is no shortage of motivation, established practices, detailed processes, ever-improving tools, literature, consultants, employees with agile experience, and certifications. Gil Broza, author of “The Agile Mindset” and “The Human Side of Agile”, thinks that one particular ingredient has been overlooked in the mad rush to adopt Agile. In this session, he leads us on an exploration of that ingredient and its crucial role in successful Agile journeys.”
The talk started with the explanation of the logical levels model. It goes top-down from identity and role, to values and belief, to capability, behaviour and environment. He gave the following example in his current role:
He continued explaining the starting point of many agile journeys.
|Traditional values||Traditional beliefs|
|Get it right the first time||Customers know what they want|
|Minimize cost and time||Putting a plan together is worth it|
|Make early commitments||Okay to have multiple constraints|
|Follow industry standards||People are resources|
The above is of course not very agile. But it’s a starting point where many organisations started. He then went on explaining how the above works in the logical levels model and how to adapt it.
But either way, as he stated, “Practices don’t matter, mind-set does”. A good example is the table below, where you can see that just giving things a different name does not work if the traditional belief stays.
|Practice/role/artifact||Was conceived as||A traditional mindset sees it as|
|Daily standup||Regular check-in to maximize the team’s value output||Daily status for maximizing work-the-plan|
|Product backlog||Prioritized list of valuable deliverables the team might do||Project plan|
|Pair programming||Collaboration to minimize the risk of employing humans||Under-utilization|
|Scrum Master||Servant leader, helping the team succeed as a team||Project manager, ensures process compliance|
|Sprint demo||Feedback, for adaptation||Frequent deadline for sign-off, tracking and accountability|
More information of his talk can be found here.
Understanding value streams at the gemba, by Nigel Thurlow
The full title of this talk was “Understanding value streams at the gemba, not from the office”.
“He’ll cover what Lean metrics really are, how scaling should work, take you into queuing theory, and then back to the Genba where the real improvements happen. Learn what a real value stream is and how to uncover the real costs of doing business. This and a whole lot more of mind bending topics.”
Now this was a talk that was filled with information. There were 71 (!) slides that had to be told in 30 minutes. That is a lot of information to transfer in a short period of time. However, Nigel managed to do so quite well. I’m not going to pretend I understood everything, but it was interesting nonetheless.
He talked about the Flow system, about complex versus complicated environments, about various tools and how they’re only visualisations, etc… . There was way too much to tell here in this blog post, but I’ll try to share some things I’m going to keep in mind.
Value is cross organisation. You can try to sub-optimize in the IT department, but if you don’t take the other departments with you, the value generated will not be optimal. The value stream contains all the people, machines, technology and skills needed to complete the end to end product delivery.
Closely tying in to the above is the genba/gemba and real value stream. He explains that growth, costs, time-to-market and staff attrition are not problems, but outcomes. And that if you want to change those outcomes, you’ll have to change how you do work. This is where genba comes into play. It’s Japanese for “actual place”.
It means you need to go the place in your company where the actual value is created. Nigel explained how he helped to transform a corn factory by actually doing an 8-hour shift on the factory floor. This gave him better insights in one shift than his previous 3 weeks of observation. This enabled him to make changes to the production line and added value to the company.
More information can be found on his website.